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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. Garett Yoder, coordinator of general education and professor of physics:

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

A: I was on the QEP Selection Committee that helped create the topic for the QEP and have continued to serve on the QEP implementation team. I have been involved with the project since nearly the beginning.  I was not a principal author, but I helped edit and wordsmith the plan with the group. That process got me really excited about the project and how it couldenable our students to engage in real scholarship earlier in their college careers.

Q: In what ways is the QEP relevant to your work as Coordinator of General Education at EKU?

A: General Education is the central part of all students’ learning at EKU. A QEP that is designed to transform the learning on campus needs to involve the General Education Program. Although the GE program does not offer or teach the courses in the program, we can encourage and give incentive for departments to engage in metacognitive strategies for critical reading. Critical reading is already being assessed in a number of GE Elements and will soon be assessed in all Elements of the program. 

Q: As a teacher, in what ways is the QEP relevant to your discipline?

A: I teach mostly introductory physics courses for majors outside our department. For these students, physics often seems like a foreign language. We use words like acceleration, force and energy that are used in everyday language, but have very specific meaning in a physics classroom. Making that transition of using careful definitions while reading (or thinking) about physics is difficult, but critical to understanding physics concepts. 

Students need to learn how to read problems. That is, to identify what situation is being considered, deciding which assumptions or approximations are applicable and useful, and identifying what quantities the question is asking for are important skills. Critical Reading strategies can be extremely effective in developing these skills. 

Physics also uses constructs, like equations and graphs, instead of words, to express ideas.  Students need to learn how to “read” an equation or graph and know what relationship is being described and then use those relationships to work through problems. Describing relationships in these other forms is foundational in physics and all depend on good critical reading skills.

For our majors, being able to read and understand journal articles and advanced textbooks that use a lot of advanced mathematics is challenging. Critical reading is the cornerstone of independent learning and will help our students be more successful in graduate school or working in a technical position.

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

A: I’m still a beginner in using these strategies.  Before the QEP was officially adopted, I participated in a PLC on metacognitive strategies where I found there are so many good ideas to improve instruction. One of the big, early takeaways for me was the idea that students aren’t refusing to read, they simply are unable to read effectively. They haven’t learned this skill. The most basic approach is just to be intentional and explicit in class about strategies for critical reading and metacognition. I have been more thoughtful in class and out of class in how I talk to students about studying and preparing for exams. I anticipate more fully embracing these strategies and do more modeling of how Iread a text that includes graphs, equations, problems, and other diagrams. I am excited, but also nervous, about bringing these new ideas into my classroom.

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

A: I think it’s too early yet to see real changes in student performance in our discipline. But one of things that so intrigued me about the QEP is that it will help faculty develop independent learners. That is the most important outcome not just for our program but for any program. I expect students will be able to enter our classes with more ability to learn on their own, which will allow us to do so much more in these courses. This is an exciting prospect.  

Q: How does the QEP benefit the campus community?

A: Maybe I’m being too idealistic, but I think when students discover that they can learn independently through critical reading, they will feel empowered. At that point, they will become more engaged with academics, more engaged with their professors, and more engaged with the community. They will seek out new ideas with more excitement and less trepidation. That will benefit everyone around them, both classmates and professors.

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

A: I expect to do more in my courses to make students aware of strategies they can use to improve their learning outside of the classroom. I want them to be purposeful and intentional in their reading.  I think the QEP will allow me to experience more professional development and become a better professor and a better reader myself.  In our department, we share lots of ideas about teaching, and these strategies will be something I hope to contribute to those discussions. 

Finally, we will work in the General Education program to get faculty to be conscious of these ideas in GE courses that students take early in the college careers to help them in their more advanced major courses.