Since 2017, I've taught courses related to corrections, research methods, and gender both in-person and online. I consistently seek out the most effective teaching approaches backed by pedagogical research and the science of learning. I challenge the status quo in teaching and aim to use engaging active learning methods. The foundations of my teaching include 1) an interactive classroom, 2) an inclusive learning community, 3) developmental learning, 4) experiential learning, and 5) project-based finals. These immersive and transformative techniques aim to cultivate empathy, critical thinking, and long-term engagement.
In all of my courses, students apply core concepts to issues facing the community. My reflective and project-based assignments build students’ social consciousness and career goals. My courses challenge students' preconceptions about controversial issues by exposing them to the latest research and perspectives of those directly impacted. Students leave my courses prepared to interact within an increasingly diverse workforce and clientele.
Flipped classroom formatting has gained popularity in higher education particularly for skill-based courses in science and engineering (Talbert, 2017). I do not completely flip my in-person classes, but I use elements of flipped formatting to support an activity-based learning environment in the classroom.
The activity-based format allows for more active learning appraisals during class (e.g., case studies, problem-solving, and discussion) than traditional lecture-style teaching (Eng, 2017). The activity-based format has been especially effective in teaching my undergraduate research methods class to make an often “boring” and difficult subject more approachable. I assign Learning Logs with a series of content and reflective questions about the readings, which ensures students retain the material in preparation for in-class activities. During class, students work together and obtain immediate instructor feedback. The activity-based format increases mastery of core concepts, participation, and engagement during class.
Although we do not have a formal "classroom" online, I facilitate an interactive self-paced learning experience. I create weekly modules with short mini-lectures on specific topics to support student learning (Costa, 2020). I assign "interactivities" in which students must complete tasks (e.g., watching documentaries or other videos, completing Kahoot activities, searching for information on specific topics) and reflect on how the activities expanded upon the content. Such methods are aimed to help make online learning engaging.
"I enjoyed the class because it didn't feel like an online course. With the videos and activities, I almost felt like it was a face-to-face class." - CJ 391 Summer 2020 Student Feedback
Fellow instructors: please feel free to use these videos in your classes.
Inclusive Learning Community
My methods are highly student-centered, accessible, and relational-based. I start every semester by having students reflect on what they enjoyed most about prior classes and what they liked least. We then discuss their preferences as a group to set norms for the rest of the semester. I build social presence and relationships with students through humor, chatting and listening to music before class, and sharing my own experiences with the correctional system.
Even in online settings, I facilitate opportunities to build informal connections through discussion boards and external social sites, like group Spotify playlists. Building supportive professional relationships in the classroom has been shown to increase students' success and connections to others (Gehlbach, Brinkworth, King, Hsu, McIntyre, & Rogers, 2016).
"Even though this was an online class I could feel the engagement and the excitement of Dr. B. I can feel that she wanted me to learn and do my best. I could tell she was passionate and excited about the material which always makes it more fun to learn." - CJ 391 Summer 2020 Student Feedback
To engage in reflective pedagogy (Neuhaus, 2019), I continuously check-in with students through anonymous feedback surveys to ensure I am effectively facilitating their learning throughout the semester. Every class dynamic is unique and shapes class discussion and activities. Students are experts in their own learning experiences and I take their feedback seriously to improve the class.
As a former first-generation college student myself, I am mindful of underserved students' needs. I purposefully seek out professional development opportunities to increase my awareness of diverse student needs. I develop my classes to be accessible from the ground up, from the syllabus and course policies to exam format. I strive for an inclusive learning environment with the structure to support all students' success (Sathy & Hogan, 2019). I use the transparency teaching model to identify the 1) purpose, 2) required assignment tasks, and 3) criteria for success. Such approaches have been shown to improve students' sense of belonging and academic success (Winkelmes et al., 2016).
I emphasize developmental learning approaches to support mastery of the material (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010; Barkley, 2009; Nilson, 2010). I utilize low-stakes formative assessment in class to gauge students learning. I use interactive and somewhat competitive approaches to motivate students, such as Kahoot, Quizizz, or Factile. The individual scores are not recorded, but the top scorers earn extra credit.
These techniques relate to gamification, in which students are motivated intrinsically through game-like activities and point structures (Sheldon, 2012). Other positive behaviors, such as perfect attendance also earn extra credit. These approaches are more inclusive and strengths-based than deficit-based approaches (i.e., penalizing or deducting points).
"I enjoyed all the assignments. All of the material really went together and built off each other to further enhance my knowledge and the overall learning experience. Everything was very engaging." - CJ 391 Summer 2020 Student Feedback
I use experiential learning in my courses to help students generate and apply knowledge through hands-on activities. Such approaches encourage students' long-term engagement with the material (Belisle, Boppre, Keen, & Salisbury, in press). In my undergraduate Corrections course, students attend a tour of a local correctional facility and interact with formerly incarcerated guest speakers.
In my other courses, I facilitate service-learning to support community engagement. For example, students in my Women, Crime, and Criminal Justice course volunteer at a local shelter for domestic violence and human trafficking survivors. We also created a campus survey on perceptions of safety and disseminated the results with recommendations for community stakeholders.
After each experiential learning activity, students complete a reflection assignment in which they apply course concepts to their experiences and reflect on how the activities facilitated their learning. These reflections help students review how the activities made them feel or react. When students have an emotional and personal connection to the material, they are more likely to remember it beyond the semester (Bain, 2004; Kavanaugh, 2016). Students often mention that experiential learning enhances the class by bringing course material to life and it humanizes those directly impacted (Belisle et al., in press). The reflection assignments allow me to clearly identify how the activities achieve learning objectives and the impacts on students' perceptions.
I recently completed a study with my co-authors using reflection paper responses from y undergraduate corrections students to assess the impacts of a jail tour, formerly incarcerated guest speaker, and a documentary on their learning and engagement. Here is one representative quote by Student #27:
“Having [the guest speaker] come into the class is a refreshing take on understanding criminal justice from a prisoner's perspective, especially listening and watching how he reacts to the given questions. It feels more authentic compared to reading articles or interviews with prisoners.”
Belisle, L., Boppre, B., Keen, J., & Salisbury, E. J. (In press). Bringing Course Material to Life Through Experiential Learning: Impacts on Students’ Learning and Perceptions in a Corrections Course. Journal of Criminal Justice Education.
FACILITY TOURS AND GUEST SPEAKERS
Each semester, my students attend a tour of El Dorado Correctional Facility and Lieutenant Hermreck comes to class to talk about working in the field.
I recently began assigning project-based finals to end my courses as a “finale” rather than a traditional final (Crider, 2015; Gannon, 2018). Students in my content-based courses create their own infographics on controversial topics (e.g., the death penalty, juvenile transfer laws) to provide recommendations for local policymakers. Similarly, students in my undergraduate Research Methods course develop proposed studies in teams to examine a local criminal justice issue. They pitch their proposals in a "Smart Tank" judging format with two community stakeholder judges. Presentations are judged based upon teams' ability to convey the importance of their topic, the appropriateness of their chosen methodology, feasibility, and overall presentation style. I support students throughout the semester by facilitating incremental activities along with on-going formative feedback.
The project-based finals create a sense of community and promote personal interests through the focus on local issues. On the last day, I hold a communal exhibit to share students’ final projects with fellow classmates. The exhibit makes the course feel like a cumulative and celebratory finale to the 15-week semester, which supports lasting connections to the material (Crider, 2015).
"[What I enjoyed about this course/instructor] was her ability to connect with students, passion for the subject, and the way she made learning accessible and easy. This class discussed real-world concepts and gave us the opportunity to create research and projects that will benefit us in the long term, not just busywork." CJ 581A Spring 2020 Student Feedback
CJ 391 Corrections
Intro to Research Methods
Smart Tank Winners: Team Harambe
Topic: Understanding the increase in methamphetamine-related crime in Wichita
Smart Tank Community Judges
Connie Nichols and Monica Harris,
Sedgwick County Division of Corrections
Summary of Student Evaluations