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This is another in a series of interviews with campus QEP leaders – those staff, faculty and administrators across campus promoting the goals of EKU’s Quality Enhancement Plan. The current QEP, Read with Purpose, calls for Eastern to develop critical readers through the use of metacognitive strategies. Building on the past QEP, which focused on developing critical and creative thinkers, this effort represents the University’s commitment to institutional improvement, and provides a long-term focus for faculty and staff professional development and student learning.

This installment in the series features Dr. Judy Jenkins, assistant professor, Department of Chemistry:

Q: In what ways have you been involved with the EKU QEP, Read with Purpose?

A: Short answer – I’ve attended a couple of 1-hour TLI workshops on the QEP, I (with Lisa Bosley) offered a science reading workshop to student tutors in training, and I’ve worked with Lisa and Jill as they formed a chemistry-specific Reading with Purpose workshop.

Longer answer – When the QEP topic was announced, I was a bit apprehensive. As a chemistry instructor, I’ve never been taught how to teach reading, so I wasn’t sure how I could incorporate “Read with Purpose” into the courses I teach. I attended one of the early TLI one-hour workshops on the QEP, where Jill and Lisa asked us to consider the following questions: 1) Why do I assign readings in the courses I teach? and 2) What do I expect students to get out of the readings I assign? As I listened to my colleagues from across campus, it became immediately clear that expectations for readings in the sciences are different than those in other disciplines. After this workshop, I approached Jill and Lisa, asking for science-specific reading resources. Since then, they’ve visited our department faculty several times, most recently offering a chemistry-specific reading workshop to all of the faculty in the chemistry department. I’m so thankful for their willingness to seek out and sort through discipline-specific resources!

Q: In what ways is the QEP relevant to your discipline?

A: Chemistry texts and publications serve two key purposes for our students and our discipline.

First, as in many disciplines, our introductory texts provide students with the most important, fundamental chemistry content. We expect these texts to serve as both introductions to and references for this content. However, unlike some disciplines, our introductory texts are inherently interactive – filled with examples, tutorials and practice problems. As such, we need students to read introductory science texts differently than they might read texts in other disciplines.

Second, chemical literature (recent reports of ongoing research) is very dense and assumes the reader is already knowledgeable in the subject matter. This medium requires students to incorporate lots of previously acquired content knowledge (and other chemical literature) as they seek to understand new data. Reading the literature in meaningful ways is critically important to developing scientist, but it’s also very difficult. I look forward to learning how to navigate this with students through the QEP.

Q: In what ways has QEP professional development impacted your teaching?

A: I tried Previewing with students this fall, and I found the strategy both easy to implement and really effective. In this strategy, the instructor briefly introduces the assigned reading to students before the students begin the assignment. I was able to essentially set the stage for the students – identifying the most important parts or specific goals, etc. – in just a few moments at the end of class. As a result, students seemed much more engaged with the readings. They would contact me with specific questions about what they’d read (before class!), and one even mentioned how helpful this strategy had been in the course evaluations. It’s exciting that relatively small changes can have noticeable positive impacts on students! Additionally, I’m looking forward to learning about and teaching meaningful reading of chemical literature in coming semesters.

Q: What impact will the QEP having on student learning in your discipline?

A: The critical thinking skills we desire in future scientists require that students have strong fundamental understanding of basic chemical concepts. Students’ interactions with chemistry texts are, in large part, what builds much of this fundamental understanding. By strengthening students’ interactions with texts, we will be able to work even more on higher-order thinking skills.

Q: How does the QEP benefit the campus community?

A: This QEP highlights key differences between being trained and being educated. While training in specific tasks is certainly necessary, it’s quite difficult to predict which specific tasks we’ll face as individuals and as a community in the future. As we all learn to read critically with purpose, we grow in our abilities to empathize with, learn from, and adapt to the world around us. The inherent perspective gained from a rich education is perhaps the best gift we have to offer our community and beyond.

Q:  How will you continue to promote critical reading in your courses, discipline, or across the University?

A: While I plan to continue incorporating critical reading strategies in my classes, I’m particularly interested in using these skills with students participating in independent research experiences. Each semester I have the opportunity to mentor chemistry students pursing research experiences beyond the classroom, and quality interactions with chemical literature are a central part of these experiences.